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Brisbane breakfast scramble.


WE were DONE for the day--or the night if you prefer, as we had just finished working the midnight-to-0700 shift. Henry Zazula and I were fixed-station radio operators working at WVLB, General Douglas MacArthur's signal center in Brisbane, Australia. It was 1943 and there had been all sorts of traffic all night long--a lot going on in the Southwest Pacific! Somerville House [a school for girls, used as a US Army headquarters complex during the war], with its barrage of radio circuits and crypto machines, had been noisy. There was little time for a break. We were hungry, so we took the tram to a favorite restaurant downtown.


Henry and I had struck up a friendship as GIs will do. We both had about the same Morse code ability, we were both from the Midwest, and we both had similar interests. He was a sergeant and I a corporal. This was obvious to any onlooker. What was not obvious was our security clearance, nor should it have been. Since there were times when we both handled top-secret material, we needed that high-level authority.

The tram ride took about 25 minutes. Shortly, we walked into one of our favorite breakfast spots, expecting to find limited seating, and we did--but there was one booth with only two men in it, a general and a bird colonel. Ouch! Did we dare?

Now remember, we were two hungry enlisted men full of P and V (piss and vinegar). Anyway, wasn't this a public restaurant? One glance at each other and we knew we'd do it. So, wending our way through the crowd, we sat down opposite the brass. If there are readers who are saying, "So what? No big deal!" I say, this was Brisbane--spit-and-polish Brisbane, Mac's headquarters. Lowly EMs [enlisted men] just didn't do that.

We had not sat there 10 seconds when the colonel stopped talking to the big guy and looked up. "Do you men know where you're sitting?" he asked. "Yes sir," Henry said. "Well, you'd better find another seat."

Now P and V go only so far, and it wasn't far enough for us to stay around longer. Up we got, and began looking for another empty spot. We had not walked 10 seconds when a major and a captain beckoned us to their booth. The major addressed Henry, "Sergeant, did that officer ask you men to leave?" "Yes sir," Henry answered. Whereupon we heard the welcome words, "Well, men, sit down and enjoy your breakfast." And we did.

Henry and I often laughed over the whole incident. For one thing, we probably had as good or better security clearance as either officer. For another, if they were discussing secret stuff, then shame on them. Unfortunately, this is too often how rank sees its role. In later years I was a captain, and I tried never to forget the "Brisbane Incident." But then, I was never a general ...

Allan A. Siemers

wartime army fixed-station radio operator, Comstock, Wisconsin

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Title Annotation:WAR STORIES: A WWII Scrapbook
Publication:America in WWII
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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